Here's how your Instagram can help diagnose your depression

Feeling blue ‘taints our online

Andrew Reece of Harvard University and Chris Danforth of the University of Vermont collected the data of 166 Instagram users - a total of 43,950 photos, and their mental health history. On the other hand, a meta-analysis of studies found doctors correctly identified patients as depressed-without using a questionnaire or other screening tools-only 42% of the time.

The difference between photo filters healthy participants used in the study and what people with depression typically chose.

Loading the Instagram feeds into a new computer program, the scientists discovered that individuals with a history of depression tend to post pictures that are bluer, darker and show fewer faces.

Scientists have developed a new computer programme that could diagnose depression from social media posts better than doctors.

"This is preliminary work, and it needs to be more thoroughly tested, vetted and replicated before we can safely claim that an algorithm can truly identify markers of depression in Instagram posts", Reece said.

It was so accurate researchers said the algorithm "outperformed general practitioners' average unassisted diagnostic success rate for depression".

And using these factors, they were able to nearly double the likelihood of correctly diagnosing a patient with the technology, compared to a doctor in a consultation. Among depressed people the most popular filter was Inkwell, making the photo black-and-white. Those who are depressed used dark colors and more blue-grayish colors.

They say a picture can be worth a thousands words. Finally, depressed participants were less likely to apply Instagram filters to their posted photos.

Instagram users with depression tend to use filters that transform an image into black and white, a study found.

As part of the study, published in the journal EPJ Data Science, volunteers attempted to distinguish between Instagram photos posted by depressed and healthy people. Using previous psychological research regarding depression and color choices, the AI system initially sorts for warm and bright colors versus more muted tones. They also get less colourful and darker, and the number of faces in our shots drops off too.

The study didn't, however, look at the statuses or comments posted below the images, which they noted could be taken into account in a future study. Even so, the possibility that social media analytics may offer a means of getting help faster to people in need is important, and should be explored further.

"With an increasing share of our social interactions happening online, the potential for algorithmic identification of early-warning signs for a host of mental and physical illnesses is enormous", says Danforth.

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